The first generation model graced South African shores at the turn of the century, and was a rather forgetful but dependable econobox. The second generation was better, but failed to capture the sales figures Kia were looking for.
But, in 2011, South Africans were introduced to the third generation Rio, an all-new product with a design language that appealed to the masses. Some 37 237 local unit sales later, the third generation has been replaced by the fourth iteration, which I drove in Johannesburg recently
The latest Rio certainly demonstrates the newfound maturity of the Kia brand first seen in the latest Sportage. We now have a car with a more grown-up, upmarket exterior design. While not the most radical of departures from its predecessor, I feel that consumers will still get the idea that this is most certainly a new model.
Up front, we see an evolution of Kia’s signature Tiger Nose grille, which is now slightly shorter and thinner. There are also new headlamps and U-shaped daytime running lights. The side profile is typically hatchback and at a glance, could be something more premium, more German, which is a good thing.
At the rear, there are new LED taillights that benefit from an arrow motif, while keen observers will note that the rear overhang is a bit shorter than before. Overall, the Rio continues to display the brand’s successful interpretation of modern motoring design with aplomb.
For those accustomed to Rio interiors of old, the new model is not likely to surprise, particularly in the entry-level models. The basic ergonomic layout is commendable, with all of the controls and their placement being easy and logical when put into practical use.
Kia also claims that there are new, improved materials used throughout the cabin, but expect the odd hard plastic surface to linger. The big change to the interior though has to be the inclusion, or option should I say, of a touchscreen infotainment system. There are three options within the range; the more basic models get a 3.8-inch mono-TFT screen with Bluetooth, USB and Aux compatibility.
Moving up the range, we have a five-inch colour touchscreen unit with the same features as the mono-TFT, while flagship models receive the brand’s new seven-inch touchscreen setup complete with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and voice control. The top-line system really improves the look of the cabin and modernises the facia, a useful option worth ticking.
In terms of the powertrain department, Kia has decided to stick with the more tried and trusted variants, with the much anticipated 1.0-litre turbo mill still under consideration for South Africa. Instead, we get mildly revised versions of the 1.2 and 1.4-litre naturally aspirated petrol motors.
The entry-level unit produces 62kW/120Nm through a five-speed manual gearbox, and the 1.4-litre 74kW/135Nm with transmissions consisting of a six-speed manual or four-speed automatic. I drove the top-of-the range 1.4-litre manual TEC derivative at launch up at altitude.
I have to say that the car does feel rather underpowered most of the time, add a hill into the equation and the problem is compounded. That said though, it wasn’t frustratingly slow with the lack of power being made-up somewhat by very little road noise and a good level of interior comfort, two traits buyers in this segment want, along with low costs and fuss-free motoring, which the Rio delivers.
While Kia hasn’t really re-invented the wheel, so to speak, with the new Rio, it didn’t really have to. The updated looks, improved quality, added interior technology and the fact that the new model is similarly priced to the older version, will likely ensure that this generation Rio is as successful as its predecessor.
Warranty and service
All Rio models come with a four-year/60 000km service plan as well as a five-year/unlimited mileage warranty.
Rio 1.2 LS - R 219 995
Rio 1.4 LX - R 234 995
Rio 1.4 LX AT - R247 995
Rio 1.4 EX - R 249 995
Rio 1.4 EX AT - R262 995
Rio 1.4 TEC - R 274 995
Rio 1.4 TEC AT - R287 995